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Fossil forest gets national recognition and protection

A fossil forest in Brymbo, near Wrexham, which pre-dates dinosaurs, has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest by Natural Resources Wales.

Fossilised bark from Brymbo. Credit: Peter Appleton

The site covers an area nearly half the size of a football pitch and contains a variety of 300 million year old fossilised plants and trees.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) says it is a world class site for plant fossils.

They are the remains of plants which grew in hot, humid conditions near the equator - and include 20 fossilised giant clubmosses that look like massive tree stumps.

The fossils were first revealed in 2004 on the former iron and steel works site in Brymbo. Much of the fossil forest remains buried for its own protection.

NRW says plans are underway, led by Brymbo Heritage Group, to establish an excavation and visitor centre on the site that will ensure the right conditions to study and display the fragile fossils.

Fossilised fern. Credit: Peter Appleton

The SSSI designation will help safeguard the fossil forest into the future as a superb scientific and educational resource.

Fossils have a wide appeal and this site, developed with the right expertise and care, has the potential to be a popular tourist attraction, contributing to the local economy of this area.

– Raymond Roberts, NRW geologist

There is an extraordinary story of tell at this site, linking the geological history with Brymbo’s industrial heritage.

Our aim is to secure funding in time to open the excavation and visitor centre in the summer of 2018

– Gary Brown, Brymbo Heritage Group

In the meantime, Brymbo Heritage Group organises guided tours, open days and community digs for people to see the fossil forest and industrial heritage.

Some of the best and rarest fossils have been removed and are being conserved in the National Museum of Wales. They will be returned to Brymbo for public display, once a suitable building is ready.

It is illegal to remove fossils or damage a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

£4.5m for brain research could find cause of dementia

The money will go towards a 'centre of excellence' in Cardiff.

Credit: Andreas Gebert/DPA/PA Images

£4.5m of EU funds has been announced to help Cardiff University develop a leading centre of excellence for brain research.

The new CUBRIC (Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre) building will enable researchers to test new ideas and theories.

It could lead to a better understanding of the causes of a range of health conditions, including dementia, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis.

The EU funds through the Welsh Government will support the construction works of the new £44m state-of-the-art facility based at Maindy Park.

This is another excellent example of how EU funds are supporting growth in the Welsh economy, helping our academic institutions to attract further competitive and private research investments and position Wales as a global leader in ground-breaking research and innovation.

– Jane Hutt AM, Finance Minister

The Welsh Government says the expansion of CUBRIC is expected to generate up to £22m in additional research investments over the coming years, enabling further collaboration to combat diseases that affect the brain.

CUBRIC’s pairing of world-leading technology with an extremely talented set of researchers will help to understand differences in normal brain function and the causes of conditions such as dementia, schizophrenia, and multiple sclerosis. Ultimately, this information will lead to the development of better treatments.

– Professor Derek Jones, Director of CUBRIC


'Monster' black holes discovery unveiled in Wales

NuSTAR was launched in 2012. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/DPA/PA Images

A meeting in Llandudno has heard that five 'monster' black holes that were previously hidden by dust and gas have been uncovered by astronomers.

The British-led discovery suggests there may be millions more "supermassive" black holes in the universe than were previously thought.

Supermassive black holes are powerful cosmic "drains" sucking material into a point of infinite density formed from the compressed mass of hundreds of thousands to billions of suns.

High energy X-rays emitted from around the newly identified black holes revealed their presence at the centre of five galaxies.

They were detected by the American space agency Nasa's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) orbiting observatory which was launched in 2012.

The space telescope is designed to pick up extremely high energy X-rays from distant objects.

The scientists presented their findings at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting, in Llandudno.

For a long time we have known about supermassive black holes that are not obscured by dust and gas, but we suspected that many more were hidden from our view.

Thanks to NuSTAR for the first time we have been able to clearly see these hidden monsters that are predicted to be there, but have previously been elusive because of their 'buried' state.

Although we have only detected five of these hidden supermassive black holes, when we extrapolate our results across the whole universe then the predicted numbers are huge and in agreement with what we would expect to see.

– George Lansbury, Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy at the University of Durham

Stars above! Watch Venus and Jupiter over Wales

Celestial events are taking place over Wales - so bright even observers in luminous cities will get to see it, so long as the skies remain clear of clouds.

The two brightest planets in the night sky - Venus and Jupiter - have appeared to pass extremely close to one another.

This time lapse was filmed by Kevin Lewis over Anglesey.

Astronomer Dr Daniel Brown, from Nottingham Trent University, said close encounters like these occur more or less every year or so - but it's not often they can be seen from the UK.

The last time we actually had Venus move exactly in front of Jupiter was 1818 and the next time it will be in 2065. Both times this was and will not be visible from the UK.

– Dr Daniel Brown, Astronomer


So, what are the Northern Lights?

Northumberland in April. Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

Around three days ago the Sun launched a CME (Coronal Mass Ejection), containing millions of tons of charged particles, more or less straight at the Earth.

It is hitting the Earth's magnetic field.

Northumberland in April. Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

The charged particles are chanelled down the field's lines and into the Earth's atmosphere.

Here they interact with the atmosphere's atoms and produce light.

The colour depends on the atoms they hit.

You can get a forecast here.

History of Welsh sheep uncovered

Credit: Nick Potts/PA Archive/PA Images

They may have been domesticated 10,000 years ago but the genetic past of Welsh sheep has been uncovered by researchers at Aberystwyth University.

They studied eighteen native breeds and found four distinct groups.

Some breeds, like the Black Welsh Mountain Sheep, saw their genetic history mapped back to Scandinavia. They were brought here by the Vikings.

The Llandovery White Face saw its roots traced back to Roman times.

The study even found that one particular breed of sheep, exclusively from the Llyn peninsula in northwest Wales, can trace its genetics back to a single, small flock of sheep in Galway, Ireland from the early 19th century.

Credit: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

“These findings provide the basis for future genome-wide association studies and a first step towards developing genomics assisted breeding strategies in the UK.”

– Sarah Beynon, Aberystwyth University

Third excavation at pre-historic fort in Cardiff

The 2014 excavation Credit: ITV Wales

Cardiff University says a major excavation of a prehistoric Welsh hillfort will get underway today, with local residents at the centre of efforts to uncover the prehistoric origins of Cardiff.

Over the next four weeks, around 200 members of the Caerau and Ely community will work alongside archaeologists to excavate Caerau Hillfort. It is claimed to be one of Wales' most significant yet least well-known heritage sites.

An axe fragment from the 2014 excavation. Credit: Cardiff University

Excavations in 2013 and 2014 revealed the site was occupied from the Bronze Age through to the late Roman era and beyond.

Among the finds were five large Iron Age roundhouses, a roadway, Iron Age and Roman pottery, and a decorated Iron Age glass bead.

An arrow head. Credit: Cardiff University

Last year some mind-blowing discoveries were made, which pushed back the origins of Cardiff deep into time, but we believe we’re still just scratching the surface of this incredible site, so who knows what will be uncovered this year.

– Dr Dave Wyatt, Cardiff University
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